House Republicans ask for probe of unspent mental health funds

March 20, 2024

House Republicans want a government watchdog to look into how the federal government has managed unspent mental health funding, including COVID-19 emergency money and funds provided to launch the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 

In a letter sent Tuesday to the Government Accountability Office, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) received nearly $8 billion in COVID-19 supplemental funding, but only about half had been spent by grantees. 

In addition, grantees spent only about $350 million out of nearly $1 billion in new funds provided to launch the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in 2022. 

Like many other agencies, SAMHSA received an influx of emergency money to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Its annual budget authority for fiscal year 2021 was $5.8 billion, but it also received more than $7.8 billion in additional money through the COVID-19 supplemental funding.  

Republicans cited a SAMHSA statistic that 53 million adults in the United States in 2020 had a mental illness, including approximately 14 million adults who had serious mental illness. The agency also warned that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic intensified mental health concerns. 

The COVID money and funding to implement the 9-8-8 hotline was obligated primarily through grants to states and other grantees.   

Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) asked GAO to look into why they money was taking so long to be spent, as well as the agency’s oversight of the funding.

“We have concerns about the nature and pace of using these funds, as well as SAMHSA’s ability to administer and oversee this additional funding,” Rodgers and other committee leaders wrote.